William Shakespeare

1863-4 (made)

Wills, William John

538-1864 SCP

Bust of Shakespeare, terracotta, modelled by W. J. Wills from the 17th-century portrait attributed to Gerard Johnson on Shakespeare's tomb; made in England, mid-19th century.

This terracotta bust of William Shakespeare depicts the subect facing forward in Jacobean dress. It was created by a 19th-century British sculptor, William John Wills (b. c. 1826; active 1856-1895). Wills was appointed Teacher of Modelling Ornament at the National Art Training School in 1852, and remained in post until 1854, or possibly 1857. He exhibited at the Royal Academy jointly with his brother Thomas until 1884. This bust was bought for the Museum for 10s. 6d. in December 1864, and was probably made in 1863 or 1864. It is said in the contemporary manuscript Museum Registers of 1864 to be 'modelled from the portrait by Van Jansen', almost certainly a reference to the bust of Shakespeare on his tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon attributed to the Netherlandish sculptor Gerard Johnson (active c.1612-23).

This small terracotta bust of William Shakespeare, dating from around 1863/4, was modelled by William John Wills (c.1826-after 1895), who taught modelling at the National Art Training School in South Kensington, the predecessor of the Royal College of Art. It was bought by the Museum in 1864, probably from the sculptor. The portrait is based on the memorial bust of Shakespeare placed on his tomb at Stratford-upon-Avon, thought to be by the Netherlandish sculptor Gerard Johnson (active 1612-23).

This object seems to have been transferred to Bethnal Green Museum in the 20th century, although it remained under the charge of Sculpture. It was subsequently accidentally omitted from CMS, and re-discvoered in a Ceramics store at Blythe House, Hammersmith by the Ceramics Curator, Judith Crouch, who alerted Sculpture. Another bust of Shakespeare also by Wills was acquired at the same time (inv. no. 539-1864); this was apparently based on the bust on Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon, and was written off in 1944.

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website